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The Ol’ College Try

Usually at this time of year, high school seniors relax.  They’ve been accepted by colleges; even those on wait lists have at least one acceptance in the bag.

But this is not a usual year.

“Kids applied in the fall when the economy wasn’t as bad,” says Elaine Schwartz, Staples’ director of guidance.  “A number of parents thought they could afford more for college than they can today.”

Instead of sunning themselves and planning for the prom, Staples students — like their counterparts across the country — spend afternoons on the phone and online, calling financial aid offices and trolling for scholarships.

“The head of one university told me this is the worst in 30 years,” Schwartz says. “Kids are crying, asking what the school can do for them.”

Schwartz says the bulk of financial aid is given early in the application year.  Little is left now for students whose parents have lost jobs, or whose financial situation has deteriorated.

So although Staples students have done exceptionally well — receiving numerous “Congratulations!” letters from the Ivies, Stanford, Duke and many other top-tier schools around the country — this is an extremely stressful time.

Friday is the deadline for applicants to give many schools a definite answer:  Are they coming or not?  Those decisions will affect wait lists, opening spots for graduates who in previous years might not have gotten in.

The decisions will also cascade through public schools, whose ranks may swell with students who decide they can’t afford the private schools that have already accepted them.

A select few may find a silver lining.  “If you’re on a wait list, and you say you’ll definitely go and pay full fare, there’s a very good chance you’ll get in,” Schwartz says.  “Colleges really want those kids.”

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